A nonprofit organization backed by the New York district attorney’s office and the City of London Police has a plan to dramatically strengthen one of the weakest links in the global cybersecurity ecosystem — small businesses.
The Global Cyber Alliance plans to strengthen that link with a “cybersecurity tool kit for small business” that it’s releasing today. The tool kit includes dozens of free cybersecurity tools, such as anti-virus and ransomware protection, along with guidance on how to install the tools and why they’re necessary.
Cities such as New York and London lose millions of dollars to global cybercrime networks but local police and prosecutors often have difficulty addressing threats based outside their borders. When the New York District Attorney’s Office and the London police launched GCA in 2015 they described it as an effort to work across municipal and national borders to reduce overall digital threats. “A crime prevented is far better than a crime prosecuted,” New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance said at the time.
If the tools are properly installed, they can reduce small businesses’s cyber risk by more than 80 percent, GCA President Phil Reitinger told me in an exclusive preview.
That, in turn, will improve the security of consumers that buy those companies’ goods, said Ron Green, chief information security officer at MasterCard, which is partnering with GCA on the tool kit.
“People have to have faith and trust that their transactions will be safe and secure,” Green told me. “We don’t want cardholders thinking: ‘I don’t trust that local coffee shop or that small online business.' They’ll be leaving out a big portion of merchants and vendors.”
It will also reduce vulnerabilities for larger companies that have numerous small businesses in their supply chains, Green said.
Smaller companies are frequently hackers' first points of entry for larger breaches, such as the 2013 Target breach, which compromised the personal information of more than 40 million customers and began with a breach of the retailer’s small HVAC vendor.
GCA, which launched in 2015 and is also backed by the nonprofit Center for Internet Security, focuses on initiatives that measurably reduce cybersecurity risk for the broader Internet ecosystem. In the past, it has built a tool that alerts consumers to malicious websites and sponsored a program to help companies protect their email domains from phishing.
The tool kit goes a step further, collecting GCA tools and programs together with free commercial tools from vendors including Microsoft and Google into a full cybersecurity package — one that’s easy to use for people without technical expertise.
“We wanted the tool kit to be usable by that 5- to-10-person organization, like a pizzeria or dry cleaner,” Reitinger told me. “These are the merchants you deal with on a day-to-day basis. They’re your friends. They’re your neighbors. And you want to know you can patronize them and your personal information will be safe.”
GCA plans to tout the tool kit to small businesses through about 240 partner organizations, including national governments, companies and business associations in different regions of the world, Reitinger told me. MasterCard also plans to urge its small- business customers to adopt the tool kit, Green told me.
There’s a lot of cybersecurity guidance for small businesses, but most of it isn’t written for a totally nontechnical audience, Reitinger told me. There are also a fair number of free cybersecurity tools, but not much guidance to help small businesses distinguish the truly useful tools from the snake oil.
The benefit of the GCA tool kit is that all the tools have been vetted and there are plain English descriptions of why companies need them, he said.
“These are organizations that are below the cybersecurity poverty line,” Reitinger told me. “They need someone to make it easier for them to take the basic steps to protect their security.”
In addition to anti-virus and ransomware protection, the tool kit includes multi-factor authentication systems that prevent hackers from seizing employee or customer data using stolen passwords, tools that inventory all of a company’s IT assets and a program that prevents hackers from spoofing company emails for phishing attacks.
The tools all have a ratings feature, so small businesses can spot things that are difficult to use and developers have an incentive to make them more easy to use.
The tool kit includes lists of cybersecurity best practices aimed at users without a technical background.
“These basic steps are really easy, but as a security market we’re failing to communicate that to a nontechnical audience,” Adnan Baykal, GCA’s global technical adviser, told me. “These are nontechnical, low-hanging fruit steps that can be implemented by anyone.”
The tool kit was written in English, but it’s equipped with a Google Translate feature so users can read computer translations in other languages. The alliance eventually plans to offer authorized translations into several languages so the tool can be used more easily outside the United States and United Kingdom, Reitinger said.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that GCA funding comes from the City of London Police and Cyrus Vance is currently Manhattan District Attorney.
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